Consistency Is Important in Dealing with Behavior Problems

Question: Throughout the year, our 13-year-old son has been a behavior problem at school, by talking excessively and distracting others in classes. Along with this issue, he is failing two classes. His social life is the be-all and end-all of his existence.

We have tried weekly reports from teachers, grounding, removal of privileges, and rewards. He is still being disrespectful in class. All the teachers confirm that he is bright and capable of doing the work. He's just choosing not to. The school counselor thinks his problems are mostly due to immaturity. - Need Guidance

Answer: It's highly possible that your son is receiving F's more because he can't do the work than because he just won't. Look carefully with the school counselor at your son's standardized test scores in the areas that he is failing.

Your son might not have the necessary skills to succeed in every class and could need special help. It's not fair to blindly accept the explanation that he is bright and won't do the work. It might not be true. At the same time, immaturity could be playing a role in his academic difficulties as well as his behavior problems.

When students constantly misbehave in class no matter what the consequences, different consequences are needed or existing ones must be more consistently enforced. Effective consequences are usually tied to giving or withholding something that really matters to the child, both at home and at school. In this case, it would appear to be your son's social life. This could be the lever to use to improve his behavior. For example, if your son misbehaves at school in any class, the result could be a solitary lunch period. At home, this could mean no phone privileges or visiting with friends.

To help your son, have a conference with all of his teachers so his problems at school can be discussed in depth, and solutions can be found. Your son needs to participate fully in this meeting for any academic or behavioral improvements to occur.